Now or never

In considerably difficult circumstances, Pakistan has been able to hold the parliamentary elections. That is in itself a positive sign for that country irrespective of the calculations of wins and losses for individual political parties. The parties that backed president Pervez Musharraf have taken a beating - the opposition parties have together won a majority. They have now mounted pressure on him to resign as president, but Musharraf has rejected the calls in an interview to America’s Wall Street Journal. Opposition leaders recall his statement that he would quit if the parties supporting him were defeated at the polls. In votes counted in 258 out of 272 constituencies, the two parties - the slain leader Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party — have made the 153-seat tally, while the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q and its allies have scraped together just 58.

Sectarian conflict and violence, Taliban and al-Qaeda influence and operations, and the killing of important political leaders culminating in Bhutto’s assassination about two months ago — all this had raised serious doubts whether Pakistan would be able to keep the election date. But it did — the extension of the January 8 poll date by about six weeks because of the Bhutto killing was quite understandable. For Nepal, as it is bracing itself for the election to the Constituent Assembly on April 10, this South Asian neighbour has provided the most recent and a powerful example to follow — particularly amid doubts whether the CA polls can be held on the appointed day, given such problems as agitation in some parts of the Tarai started by three newly-formed parties. Pakistan faced a more unfavourable climate for polls than does Nepal now. The submission on Wednesday of the closed lists of CA candidates on proportional basis has helped boost public confidence that the election will take place on the given date.

It is the right thing for the government to hold dialogue with any disgruntled group in order to address their demands as far as these are reasonable. The same applies to the agitating Madhesi groups who are now in talks with the government. The demands with potentially harmful implications for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be off-limits; so should any demand that may conflict with the legitimate interests of other groups or society as a whole, or with the fairness of the political processes through special treatment to any agitating group. However, the fixing of another separate date for submission of closed lists of candidates on proportional basis provides hope for the participation of these agitating groups, too. This can be tolerable for once, but further reordering of the poll schedules should be avoided, as it would render the whole electoral process to a joke. By that time, if the agitators agree to join in, it will be all very fine. But even if they don’t, the nation must go ahead with its once-in-a-lifetime democratic exercise. Yet another missed deadline could well mean a lost opportunity. And this failure would be unforgivable.